Following his team’s 74-69 win over No. 11 Arizona Sunday at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA coach Ben Howland went ahead and confirmed what everyone had suspected in regards to the future of star freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
“That was his last game in Pauley Pavilion, no doubt about it. I know that. He knows that. We all know that,” Howland said at a press conference after UCLA’s win, implying that Muhammad would be leaving after his freshman season to enter the NBA draft.
“This wasn’t meant to be an announcement for Shabazz, I’m just being honest. Just keeping it real,” he continued. “I’m very much a realist now. I knew going into this deal that this was a one-year deal, and it should be. He’s a lottery pick. He’s a top-five pick. When you have that going for you, it is absolutely the right thing.”
Muhammad, who scored 18 points in the win, was less forward about a formal announcement.
“It’s still a long season of basketball, I kind of thought about it,” Muhammad said. “I’m really happy I came here and represented UCLA. It was definitely the right decision. The fans here are great, I have enjoyed myself this whole year, getting experience at the college level.”
At this point, it would likely be unwise for Muhammad not to go to the draft, as he is expected to be selected in the Top 5 of the lottery. Draft Express currently has him slotted to go No. 3 overall to the Washington Wizards.
But with this draft and the lack of a definitive No. 1 overall pick, the draft order will ultimately determine who goes where in the Top 10. Instead of drafting entirely on overall quality, teams have more room to draft one need. That means Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Alex Len, Cody Zeller, Muhammad, and others could all shift spots at the top of the board.